Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Flatball Radio

Last night I spoke at the world premiere of Flatball Radio at the Pike Place Market Theater- think ultimate frisbee meets TED talks.  I'll post video when it's baked up and ready, but here's the transcription of my talk.

I’m guessing...You love ultimate.  If you’re sitting in this theater tonight, you probably do.  I do.   

I love the culture of punny team names and shenanigans and cheers and costumes, I love being able to move to a city and know that I already have a community there, I love when an airplane is full of your loud stinky teammates, I love going Beast Mode on the field at high-stakes tournaments, I love huddling for a timeout and executing that redzone play, baiting Ds, completing hucks, I love getting better at something, I love peanut butter on bananas.  

Last month I finally went and got my stuff out of storage, and I found all my old ultimate treasures.  The jerseys, the nationals pint glasses, the upa magazines I'm in, my college captain binder with all my doodles trying to invent new drills.   

I remember I wanted to stay on so badly for a 5th college season, and I schemed on all the ways I could make it work, and I remember how ridiculous my parents thought that was.  They didn’t get it.  

And recently my friend Will broke his hand on day 1 of a tournament and then played the rest of the tournament with a cast on it and a plastic bag to rainproof it. And when I heard that, I was like, yup, woulda done the same thing.  

And when I was living in Asia, I would spend like $800 to go to Manila or Singapore for a long weekend tournament and barely see anything but the hotel and the fields, and it was so worth it.  

I’d see married couples on my coed team in Austin, with their ultimate babies playing together on the sidelines, and I was like, they totally have it figured out.  That’s gonna be me.  

I love ultimate.  But I quit.  

One of my friend’s favorite things to say is: “we are all people in the world trying to get our needs met.”  Ultimate has met a number of needs for me.  Among others, the needs for connection and belonging, the need for learning, and the needs for play and exercise.  But I’m learning that these needs can be met by something, or a combination of somethings, other than ultimate.  

Currently I'm- possiblykindofmostly- retired, and I never thought that would feel as ok as it does.

I kind of see now why my parents thought it was silly to stay an extra year for a non-sanctioned sport I was paying to play.  Not that I agree, but I get it now.  And when I think about playing with a broken hand, I’m like … mm.. I dunno about that.  I could hurt it worse, what does my insurance cover..

It boils down to priorities, and mine have shifted.  

For the first time in 9 years of playing ultimate, this past year I made the choice not to play ultimate at the highest level I could.  And I didn’t make that decision at the end of the season last year.  I signed up for tryouts in May of this year with the full intention of playing elite club again.  And I made the choice not to try out for Riot, but instead to play with Underground, like I did last year, as a returner.  And I felt relief at that decision, and I was proud of myself for being in touch with my priorities, that I wanted to dedicate more time and energy to growing my career and so I would choose the team that required just a little less of that time and energy.   

Buuut, as I went along, it turned out I needed more time and energy than that commitment would allow.  My work involves a lot of weekday evening events- panels, networking, that kind of thing, and every time there was one that conflicted with practice, there was a tension.  I had to make that choice over and over- do I go to the Seattle Tech Meetup and and get buy-in for my next project, or do I go to practice with my team?  And I started to resent and be exhausted by having to make that choice multiple times a week, because I was always letting myself down either way.  Always reneging on a commitment and having to stomach that.  

So, even though my body felt pretty recovered from the injuries I really struggled with last year, and the Underground girls were wonderful, and there was a strong coach on board, and I didn’t have family conflicts or hard money problems or some of the usual suspects of why ultimate players take a step back, I had to make a hard choice.  Was I going to prioritize my career, or ultimate?  

I avoided the decision.  I procrastinated and tried to do as much as I could to do All The Things, just running on my little hamster wheel, and I felt this mounting stress as the end of tryouts and the commitment to an official roster spot got closer and closer.  

Why was it so hard to make the choice and follow through on it?  

Because! It’s scary.

You find something like ultimate that meets your needs, and you get used to it meeting your needs that way, and it’s hard to take a step back and look at if your needs have changed, or allow the possibility that those needs can get met in other ways.   

I don’t want to let down the team.   
I don’t want to be a quitter.
I don’t wanna have to try to work out by myself because I know I’m terrible at that.  
What else would I do?
What if I'm not as good at other things?
Do I tell myself and everybody else I’m just taking a year off?  Will I really just take a year off?
Will I be invited to their parties anymore? I don’t want to be left out.
If I don’t play ultimate this season, can I still call myself an ultimate player?  How long from the time you last played can you still call yourself an ultimate player?  

I knew I wanted to prioritize my career, but I wanted to do it all.  Make time for everything, be good at everything.  

The heart of the issue was that ultimate was my identity.  I identified as an athlete, but specifically, an ultimate player.  When my college professor asked the class to go around and say one interesting thing about yourself, I said I play ultimate.  When I had to give a speech in korean class about a topic of my choice, when people ask me about my hobbies, or ask me about soccer when my cleats are tied to my bag in airports, I have always said, “I’m an ultimate frisbee player.”  Outside the community, it’s that thing that you’re known for, it’s that differentiator.  And then inside the community- I mean... all my friends played ultimate.  When thinking about not playing, It wasn’t just about choosing how to spend my time differently- it was about navigating an identity shift.  

Ultimate and the commitment to it is what I knew.  Just cutting it out and chancing what else I’d be left with was scary.  

But here I am not playing competitive ultimate, and I am ok.  It’s ok!  And I think it’s because I didn’t quit without a plan.  I thought about why I love ultimate- what needs it meets for me, and I intentionally sought out activities and social circles that would meet those needs and fill that void.  I am building my career in ways that are important to me, I’m crossfitting and even experimenting with what it feels like to do non-competitive exercise, I’m connecting with new amazing people and for the first time in a decade I hang out with more non-frisbee friends than frisbee friends, which is weird.

And I still go to fun tournaments like Lei Out, and I eat peanut butter bananas any time I want.

So if you’re thinking about what to do next season- if you should try out for the most competitive team, fart around in the park, take a year off, only play MLU, whatever- I invite you to take a look at what your needs are, allow the possibility that they can be met in other ways, and give yourself permission to step back if that’s what you discover you need.  I am, and YOU are, more than just an ultimate player.  

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


I turned 27 yesterday. And I hope I’m just a mite wiser, and just a squidge more interesting, and just a scooch closer to figuring myself out in this circus. And I am filled with gratitude for all the people who help me tame the lions, unjam the cotton candy machine, and jump for those swinging trapezes. Inspired to write this by my bud who did similarly, Imma list out 26 things I learned or did this year.

In no particular order:

1. I gave this talk for Ignite Seattle at Town Hall. I applied to speak because it was scary. And then some friends put a magnifying glass in my hand and told me to look really hard at what I wanted to say, and I ended up telling 800 strangers what I discovered in the process. It was an exercise in vulnerability, and I was nervous as all heck. This was a turning point for me on a number of levels.


2. 3 generations took a helicopter ride past the Napali Coast of Kuaui. With my parents in Seoul, my sister and great aunt in Austin and Philly, and me in Seattle, we met in the middle for the holidays.

3. I didn’t play frisbee. For the first time since freshman year of college, I chose not to commit a season to competitive frisbee. This was a terribly difficult decision, where I had to let go of: my white-knuckled expectations for myself that I could do it all, the idea that I was letting people down, and the idea that I’d be lost without it this identity. Plus FOMO.

4. I threw a giant warehouse party for our green nonprofit’s 10-year anniversary. I borrowed truckloads of couches and stuffs from Goodwill, got a silent disco company to sponsor headsets for the dance party, and the mayor came and judged the thrift shop costume contest. Plus there was an 8 ft photobooth, professional jugglers, and a fire show. I wore a flamingo hat.

Barbie Hull Photography

5. I worked on an app that’s now in the app store. MakeMe.

6. Knowing when to say no, and how to say it (this is still very much a work in progress). Time is the only resource of which you can’t get any more. I’m learning to be more deliberate about how I spend my time and who I choose to spend it with, which involves looking at why I’m saying yes, and learning how to say no.

7. I tried online dating. But I didn’t just explore it- I took it on like homework. I told myself it was Go Time, and I lined up a number of dates in a two-week period. And at each one… I looked for any reason for there never to be a date #2. It was positively Seinfeldian. At the end of the 2 weeks I was exhausted and relented to the fact that no, in fact I was not as open to dating as I hoped I was. Who’s got two thumbs and distancing behaviors?

(this girl!)

8. I helped my friend propose to his girlfriend in the most epic scheme thinkuppable. He crafted a perfect day for his lady, seemingly through unrelated coincidences. She helps a man with his dropped groceries, and he offers her tickets in thanks. She orders a latte at Starbucks and wins a contest that doesn’t actually exist. She orders a Lyft ride, and the driver is dressed as a mystic, and it’s uncanny how much she knows about her. They ride a tugboat, and the engine just happens to cut out exactly as sun sets on the lake. And so forth. It was beautiful. A month after the proposal we all went down to Vegas so they could get married in a Disney-themed Elvis-officiated pink cadillac wedding. The bride was dressed as the Little Mermaid, her dad gave her away as King Triton, and the groom, of course, was Jafar, complete with squiggly goatee.

9. I crossfat. I got really into crossfit, participated in some local competitions, and tangoed with the paleo diet, including organizing an Iron Chef competition. Insider tip: make a potluck a competition, and people up their game; things turn gourmet right quick!

10. I took improv comedy classes. I wanted to learn how to think on my feet and to be more comfortable risking looking foolish; I wanted to punch my self-consciousness in the face and kick it to the curb. I found improv to be extremely uncomfortable and awkward. It was great for me.

11. I audited a butchery class. I now know where bacon sits in the hog.

12. I watched porn with strangers.  I went to the local alternative newspaper’s amateur porn film festival, hosted by Dan Savage, and voted on top candidates for categories such as Best Humor and Best Kink.

13. I joined the board of a Women in Tech group, part of the city of Seattle’s startup-friendly initiative, and I joined a professional women’s forum. I’m leaning in.

14. Data flirted with me. I helped a buddy run a kickstarter campaign for the asteroid mining company Planetary Resources, and I met Brent Spiner. I helped this same buddy run a Space Up unconference earlier in the year, so between these two events I have a small, unlikely, space enthusiast following on the Twitters.

15. I pursued professional mentorship. I learned what to look for in a mentor and how to increase your helpability.

16. I hosted themed picnics every Wednesday in July. My favorite: “As this week is the last of the July Wednesday picnics, I'd like to salute a special love of mine. PUNS. I want to see the likes of: Wu Tang Flan, Penne for your thoughts, and I'm kind of a big dill.”

17. I helped my sister move back to Austin and find a house to buy. When I get around family, it’s frustrating (sometimes) and funny (when I remember it’s funny) to feel pulled into old roles, despite feeling I’ve grown out of them. And I noticed I was being judgmental of my sister in areas in which I’m hard on myself. Psychology 101 sez: this is a case of projection.

It’s like when you work so hard to make a perfectly round pancake, and then you see someone just eating pancakes shaped any ole which way, and you’re like HEY! I find your laxity on this subject threatening to my round pancake way of life! Don’t you know pancakes SHOULD be round? Having sprung from the same womb, we’re like the same person, and I’m just going to backslide into irregular pancake habits if you keep doing this around me!! Gah.

18. I made Seattle Startup Week. It’s one of the bigger projects I’ve ever dreamed up, and even though I got knocked around a little bit by the big dogs and was confronted with one particular situation which I likened to the Perfect Storm of What I’m Not Good At, in the end I proved I could rally stakeholders and execute from Drawing Board to Full-Blown Week with 23 events. Woopah!

19. We are all just trying to get our needs met, in the ways we know how. My friends have introduced me to a new needs-based framework of thinking, which has helped me find empathy for myself and for others in trying situations. If Dale cheats on his wife to get out of the relationship, it’s a ‘tragic expression of an unmet need’ for autonomy, or for peace, for example. We’re not always functional in our strategies, and sometimes people can be epically disproportionate or hurtful, but if we can try to look to the need they were trying to get met, it can help us understand where they’re coming from, and be more generous through that understanding. It’s been immensely helpful for me to think in terms of my own needs when I’m trying to figure out why I just behaved a certain way (why wasn’t I nicer to her? Or, why did I just say yes to that?), or when I’m checking in with myself (why am I so anxious right now?).

This idea is very tied to

20. It’s about them, not me. Everyone experiences the world ethnocentrically. We can’t help it. If I hear that you’re moving away, on some level I’m thinking about how that affects me (but, but- who’s going to spot my handstands?). If this lady blows up at me for a misunderstanding, it’s charged by her worry that it will make her look bad to her boss, and it’s not that I am fundamentally incompetent, even if my first reaction is to internalize it as such. The phrase “They’re not against you; they’re for themselves” has been a helpful meditation.

21. The importance of practicing gratitudes. Sometimes when I wake up grumpy, and I have enough wherewithal to recognize that I’m grumpy, and then enough discipline to try and turn that around, I remember to reach for some gratitudes. I’ve found it’s one of the more reliable methods to get out of a funk. The idea that you can actively shift your focus and change the course of your day by naming 3 gratitudes and swinging your feet out of bed is comforting when you feel like your feelings are just happening TO you.

22. Awareness around self-talk. I am downright mean to myself. I am cruel to myself in ways I would never be to anyone else. I would never tell Wendy she looks fat today, or that she’s an impostor and everyone will figure out she’s not smart enough. I would never remind her of her mistakes over and over with no sense of compassion. It’s been helpful to me to work on picking out that voice in my head as something distinct so I can then turn around and change that narrative. I’m learning to recognize a mean thought as mean. And changeable. We often impose our own greatest limits on ourselves, without realizing it, but I’m learning to hear it when I do and give myself little pep talks. I can doooooo it!

23. A word on resentment and a word on shame. “Resentment is like peeing your pants. It’s uncomfortable, and you’re the only one who feels it.” “Resentment is like taking poison in the hopes the other person gets sick.” I’ve peed my poison pants a few times this year. I’ve rummaged through my new toolbox looking for an approach that gets me somewhere: What were their needs? How is it about something going on with them and not necessarily about me? What’s the story I’m telling myself, and how can I reframe my thinking around the situation?

But sometimes I’m just stymied, and I’m standing there in wet denim. And I feel shame on top of it-- shame that I can’t let go of it, shame that they still make me so angry, shame that it’s hard to wish them well. Brene Brown’s TED talk on shame says that one of the ingredients necessary for shame to persist is silence. So I tell a trusted friend. And when they don’t judge me, it helps me give myself permission not to judge myself. Sometimes you just don’t want to put on your big girl panties! And that's ok for a while.

24. I fetched my things from storage after 3.5 years. When I left San Diego, I thought I’d be gone for a year, but that turned into 2 years in Korea and then a year and a half in Seattle. I had way more stuff than I remembered having. I elbowed my way through a “parts conflict” between the sentimental person who can’t bear to throw away those intricately folded high school notes and who just miiiight pick up the flute again someday, versus the practical person who doesn’t want the burden of Things and knows she’s never going to toot a flute again.

25. Looking at assumptions I didn’t realize were assumptions. When I was sorting through the objects of my history, there were things I wanted to keep because I thought my kids would want to have it someday. And if I were not to have kids, there wouldn’t be a reason to keep it. So you know where this thinking led me? The huge life decision of whether to have kids someday or not got saddled squarely on my decision to keep, or not, this clay sun I made in 2nd grade. Ridiculous!

I kept the sun. But, I’m not sure if I want kids, and I am in the very privileged position of that being a choice I can make. Some of my best friends recently decided not to have children, and thinking on it, I realized that I just assumed I would someday, without really stopping to challenge if that was for me.

26. Otters hold hands when they sleep to keep from floating away from each other!